Posted by Jack Tumen
After a minor image makeover, it’s time to kick off the Jacked Up Sports preview of the National Football Conference.
We begin with the NFC East. When it comes to history, rivalries and late-season playoff races, this division never fails to disappoint. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the best teams reside in this division (because frankly, they don’t) but the long-standing reputation of these four teams keeps the interest level relatively high no matter what the weather. The theme this year?; lots of offense and little defense.
All eyes were on the Philadelphia Eagles last year as Chip Kelly unveiled his innovative Oregon offense to the NFL. Things didn’t start out so smoothly; Philly was only 3-5 at the halfway point. However, they finished the season 7-1 on their way to 10-6 and a division title.
The headlines were all about Nick Foles, who relieved an injured Mike Vick in week 6 and never looked back. He threw an astonishing 27 TDs to 2 INTs, including a 7-TD performance against Oakland. But once January came, the magic was over as the Eagles lost in the Wild Card round to Nawlins. When I ask my Philly friends if they like Foles as their QB, the general response I get is “Yeah. Kind of. Actually, I don’t know. Yeah. Yes. Ehh, we’ll see.” Well said, Eagles fans. Truth be told, we don’t know what Nick Foles is yet. He could be a level-headed passer who’s a product of his system; he could actually be this good; or he might be a fluke. We’ll know more after he gets a full season as a starter under his belt; until then, stay tuned.
One thing we do know is that the Eagles have a top-5 NFL player in LeSean McCoy, whose stock has never been higher (and not just in fantasy leagues.) He torched opposing defenses last season, rushing for a league-high 1,607 yards behind Jason Kelce and co. on 5.1 yards-a-pop while averaging 100.4 yards per game. This season, the league’s no. 1 rushing attack somehow gets even more dynamic with the addition of Darren Sproles. Helluva compliment to Shady, I’ll say.
With DeSean Jackson now wearing burgundy, Jeremy Maclin gets to be the main man at wideout on a one-year “prove it” deal. The jury’s still out on Riley Cooper, but he’s shown well and has the physical tools at 6’4″, 230lbs to be continuously successful. I’m a HUGE fan of Jordan Matthews (yes, that huge.) He was my second-favorite receiver in this draft class and he’s gonna flourish for Philadelphia. The tight ends in this offense basically act as receivers, so throw in Zach Ertz – one of the best young tight ends in football – along with Brent Celek, who I think gets a little overlooked.
The major questions on this roster lie on the other side of the ball. This team was dead last in pass defense last year. Ironically, Brandon Boykin tied for second in the NFL with 6 interceptions. They added safety, Malcolm Jenkins, to sturdy up the back end and with Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams, they should be better than they were last year. Elsewhere, LB, Mychal Kendricks was an active body for this defense, recording 4 sacks, 3 INTs and 108 tackles alongside stalwart, DeMeco Ryans.
Other Notables: DE Fletcher Cox has failed to impress as a first-round pick and needs to step it up; Rookie LB, Marcus Smith will have to make plays early and often; S Nate Allen is a wild card in this secondary; Chip Kelly loves big WRs and has 6’7″ Ifeanyi Momah on this roster at the moment; First-round G, Danny Watkins, was one of the biggest busts of the 21st century.
There’s much unrest for the team in our nation’s capital. Last offseason was non-stop RG3 rehab news about how Washington wouldn’t rush him back from his ACL injury and wait ’til he felt 100% to return to action. Well, that’s the complete opposite of what they did as Griffin and others admitted he still wasn’t truly healthy during their dismal 3-13 campaign last season. On top of that, the franchise is fighting to keep its name, but that’s another story. Jay Gruden takes over for Mike Shanahan as the Head Coach, hoping to turn things around after the arrow was pointing up in 2012. He’s an offensive mind and he’ll have a huge responsibility getting RG3 back on track.
Washington’s offense certainly has plenty of weapons. They added DeSean Jackson to play alongside Pierre Garçon, who led the NFL in receptions with 113. Second-year tight end, Jordan Reed, battled a head injury late last year but is a crucial piece to the success of this passing game.
Alfred Morris is one of the most solid backs in the league, with nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns through his first two seasons. There isn’t much behind him, though; Roy Helu has flashed ability but struggles to stay healthy. They certainly don’t want Robert Griffin running as much as he used to, so the load in the running game will largely fall on Morris’ shoulders.
The defensive trend continues – or lack thereof. The Redskins were in the bottom half of the league in both rush and pass defense and were tied for second-to-last in PPG allowed with 29.9, just one-tenth of a point better than the last-place Vikings. With London Fletcher finally retired, the center of this defense is…Perry Riley? Well, he led the team with 115 tackles a season ago but one would imagine that the best players in this unit are Ryan Kerrigan, Brian Orakpo and DeAngelo Hall; that’s not saying much.
Other Notables: The additions of Tracy Porter and Ryan Clark will be a huge help for this secondary; Second-year CB, David Amerson needs to take the next step; Rookie WR, Ryan Grant, has drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff during training camp; Santana Moss is still a capable veteran option in the passing game; Trent Williams anchors an offensive line with plenty of question marks.
Ok, Ross, it’s time to look at the Dallas Cowboys. Let’s get the bad out of the way first. When it comes to Big-D, the Cowboys have none of it. DeMarcus Ware is gone. Barry Church was 8th in the league last year with 135 tackles – and when your teams’ safety is the one making all the tackles, it’s never a good sign. They’ve being pegged early as the worst defensive team in football for 2014. Yup, sounds about right to me. In fact, Dallas is so bad on defense that they traded for former first-round linebacker, Rolando McClain, who’s only 24 and has retired and un-retired from the NFL like 20 times already. The biggest blow came when Sean Lee suffered his annual season-ending injury, this year an ACL. They’ll hope to have Anthony Spencer back for week one following knee surgery. But then tack on a broken foot for second-round DE, DeMarcus Lawrence, and I’m next up on the depth chart.
Dallas will have to score more points than Peyton Manning to keep ahead of themselves this season. Luckily for them, their offense is in good shape. They were able to put up 27.4 PPG last season, good for 5th in the league. DeMarco Murray is one of the better running backs in football and he’s got a relatively stout offensive line to block for him. He finished 10th in rushing last year with 1,121 yards and finished 4th with 5.2 YPC. With a nice set of hands as well (53 receptions in 2013,) Murray will be the keystone of this offense.
Dez Bryant has established himself as a top-5 wideout in the game. He fits the profile of a Cowboys wideout for sure; a superstar drama-queen. No doubt about it, all eyes will be on 88 when Tony Romo drops back to pass; but some new names have surfaced that will determine the ultimate success of this offense. Second-year man, Terrance Williams, will be the no. 2 option with Cole Beasley manning the slot. And don’t overlook 5th rounder, Devin Street, who was one of my under-the-radar widouts out of Pitt.
There’re a lot of first-round picks on this offensive line they’ll have to perform if this team’s to have any success whatsoever. Tyron Smith just got paidddd. $110 mil to be a Cowboy for life? Yeah, I’d take it. In un-Jerry-like fashion, Dallas bypassed the chance to grab J. Football and used its first-round pick on tackle/guard, Zach Martin, who then proceeded to tear Sean Lee’s ACL. Travis Frederick has turned out to be a pretty solid center after many people questioned him as a first-rounder.
Other Notables: Jason Witten will still eat up yards in between the hashes; Jason Garrett’s seat gets hotter each year; Second-year TE, Gavin Escobar, could be the weapon that puts this offense over-the-top, CB Morris Claiborne has failed to live up to expectations after being the 6th-overall pick in 2012, CB Brandon Carr was one of the worst corners in football in 2013; DT Henry Melton might be the best player on this defense until Anthony Spencer returns.
The only franchise from this division to win a Lombardi Trophy (or two) in this millennium has been the New York Football Giants. But sometimes it’s hard to remember how they won them in the first place.
This offense was badddd last year – like, worse than the Jets offense. No, seriously. They only averaged 307.5 yards of offense per game in 2013, good for 28th. Their season was over before it even started as they army-crawled out of the gates to an 0-6 start. Then, somewhere along the way, they realized it was football season and decided to start playing. They ended the year 7-3 but too little too late as they finished 3rd in the division at 7-9.
New York is in the middle of an interesting roster project. New offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo, comes over from Green Bay where he’s installing a quick-hitting passing attack for this young group of wideouts. Word is that he wants Eli Manning to complete 70% of his passes this season. The chances of that happening are about the same as my name being Eli Manning – so like, no chance.
Eli certainly has a nice receiving corps to work with; one that I feel is underrated. Victor Cruz is still the top-dog and will be a targets-machine in the slot. Reuben Randle led the Giants with 6 touchdowns and is ready to break out of his shell and improve on his 41 receptions from a year ago. Rookie Odell Beckham Jr. has been bothered by a hamstring but if he can get healthy he’ll do wonders for this passing attack. Also don’t discount Jerrel Jernigan, who had a productive December and can do some damage from the slot.
This backfield will be the key to the Giants’ success. Rashad Jennings was brought in as a free agent to be the no. 1 runner for New York. Even at 29, he plays like he’s 26 and does everything well; he’s a smooth, fluid runner with soft hands in the passing game and can pick up the blitz. With the unfortunate and sudden end of David Wilson’s career, rookie Andre Williams will have an increased role right off the bat – he showed well in the Hall of Fame Game and with Peyton Hillis dealing with a new injury, Williams could in fact be crucial to this offense.
This defensive secondary is the class of the division. Cornerback, Prince Amukamara, gets some help from free agent additions Zack Bowman, Walter Thurmond III and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. At safety, Antrel Rolle returns as the team’s leading tackler with ball-hawk, Stevie Brown and former Chief, Quintin Demps.
Other Notables: MLB Jon Beason hopes to be ready for week one to anchor the middle of this defense; The tight end situation is a mess and could really hinder the Giants’ offensive output; The Giants need to start grooming a quarterback of the future because Ryan Nassib is not that quarterback; JPP hopes to return to his 2011 form; Rookie LB, Devon Kennard (whom I interned with last summer in LA,) could be a nice player down the road.
New York Giants: 8-8
There’s no shortage of offense in this division, as we can expect some high-scoring rivalry games this year. The problem is the absence of defense. This division gets a break by facing the weak AFC South but is also unfortunate to play the NFC West as well. Philadelphia has the most amount of talent and I expect them to keep a steady pace ahead of the pack in Chip Kelly’s second season; The Giants are always a mix bag. The new quick-trigger offense will keep Eli and co. moving the chains but this is also a team that’s known to drop games they should win. They’ll be in the hunt but one more season of roster development and familiarity with a new system will have them looking better in 2015; Jay Gruden is walking into a sticky situation in Washington. The offensive personnel suggests the Redskins should put up points but no one knows which version of RG3 will show up this season. Defense is a major weakness and Gruden will have a rebuilding project on his hands as a rookie head coach; The Cowboys offense will be their life-preserver this season. Unless they go out there and put up 30+ points every week, Big-D is in big doo-doo. I just don’t see the consistency being there week-in and week-out. The over/under on Dez Bryant shit-fits is set at 5.5 and Jason Garrett gets his walking papers come January.
Next up: NFC North